Past SEAA Awards

2014 Prize Recipients

2014 Francis L. Hsu Book Prize finalist

Manduhai BuyandelgerTragic Spirits: Shamanism, Memory, and Gender in Contemporary Mongolia

Tragic Spirits gives us a mesmerizing depiction of the revival of shamanism among the Buryats of Mongolia under tragic circumstances. Facing life-threatening economic misfortunes in an era of neoliberal reform, Buryats turn to shamans to explain the causes of their hardships. The shamans explain their clients’ bad fate in terms of neglected ancestral spirits and it is here that the subtlety and brilliance of Manduhai Buyandelger’s ethnography becomes apparent. Because of multiple forced migrations and historical displacements, at the hands of Tsarist and Soviet Russia, the Ch’ing dynasty Chinese empire and the socialist government of Mongolia, Buryats have often lost the history and the genealogies of their own families. The shamans’ search for neglected ancestral spirits enables the reconstruction of familial histories. Based on years of fieldwork in her home country, Buyandelger interweaves complex narratives of state violence and suppression with the voices of ancestral spirits, shamans, and their clients to produce a moving portrait of a long suffering people. By analysing how the gender dynamics of the present influence the activities of male and female shamans, she demonstrates the importance of gender to the reconstruction of history. While giving us multiple portrayals of Buryat life, Buyandelger theorises new ways of thinking about history, memory, and forgetting that are applicable to a wide range of societies. Buyandelger’s wide reading in anthropology enables her to make many nuanced comparisons to the work of shamans and the making of history in other places. Above all, she shows that history is a continual work in progress. Her work will inspire anthropologists concerned with problems of memory, forgetting, suppression, and the creation of historical knowledge for decades to come. It is for these reasons that Tragic Spirits richly deserves the 2014 Francis L.K. Hsu Book Prize.

Hsu Committee: Andrew Kipnis (The Australian National University), chair; Laura Miller (University of Missouri-St. Louis), William Silcott (Wichita State University)

2014 Theodore L. Bestor Graduate Student Paper Prize finalist


2014 David Plath Media Award – Playing with Nan

Dipesh Karel (University of Tokyo) and Asami Saito (Media Help Line, Kathmandu)
2013, HDV, color, 88 minutes

Using a predominantly observational mode, punctuated with interviews and conversations, Playing with Nan tells a powerful story about global migration. The directors’ careful filmmaking and editing unpack the paradoxes and complexities of migrant labor in and between Asian countries. With its attention balanced sensitively between the receiving country (Japan) and the sending country (Nepal), this intimate portrait of lives, ambitions, and relationships sheds light on an aspect of globalization that is less frequently addressed in scholarship and news media. We all strongly agreed that this film would contribute immensely to courses on migration, global flows, and contemporary Japan.

–interview article,

2014 Honorable Mentions for Plath Media Award
Rupert Cox and Angus CarlyeKiatsu: The Sound of the Sky Being Torn
We are excited to recognize “Kiatsu” for an honorable mention in this year’s David Plath Media Award Competition. This work sets a new, challenging example of the possibilities for collaboration between anthropologists and artists, particularly in its use of sounds and screens for investigating how one family near Narita airport in Japan negotiates the infrastructures of modernization. We encourage everyone to also explore their blog, where Cox and Carlyle detail their production process. –
David NovakSounds of Japan’s Antinuclear Movement
This is a very detailed and well-told story of musical responses to the 3-11 triple disaster. The podcast and website are accessible to general audiences, with an impressive amount of information packed into a 15 minute podcast. The website is a very useful feature and models the possibilities of future media scholarship that combines videos, podcasts, texts, and visual images. We all would have liked to see even more materials linked online, given the potential of this platform for collecting, curating, and sharing resources.

[podcast description 8/2013, excerpt] Ethnomusicologist David Novak brings you to the noisy scenes of Japan’s 2012 antinuclear protest movement in Tokyo, Osaka, and Fukushima, mixing commentary with field recordings, musical examples, and interviews about the role of arts and culture in the ongoing political crisis. Source,

2014 Plath Media Award committee: Jenny Chio (Emory University), Chair; Timothy Gitzen (University of Minnesota), Eleana Kim (UC Irvine), Nathaniel Smith (University of Arizona)

2013 Prize Recipients

2013 Francis L. Hsu Book Prize finalists

The 2013 Francis LK Hsu Book Prize was jointly awarded to Junko Kitanaka (Keio U) for her book Depression in Japan: Psychiatric Cures for a Society in Distress, as well as to Judith Farquhar (U Chicago) and Qicheng Zhang (Beijing U of Chinese Medicine) for their book Ten Thousand Things: Nurturing Life in Contemporary Beijing.

Based on extensive research in psychiatric institutions in Tokyo and the surrounding region, Kitanaka’s fascinating book analyzes how depression has become a national disease and entered the Japanese lexicon through the “marriage” of biological and societal narratives in psychiatric language as well as how the emergence of psychiatry functions as a force for Japan’s social transformation. Farquhar and Zhang’s book is a marvelous product of their cross-national and cross-cultural collaboration in research and writing. Their book describes Beijing residents’ everyday practices of yangsheng, a self-cultivation through multifarious activities such as taijiquan, dancing, and medicinal cuisine, and explicates the cultural logic that channels these everyday activities of ordinary people in nurturing their lives.

2013 Theodore L. Bestor Graduate Student Paper Prize finalist

The 2013 Theodore C Bestor Prize for Outstanding Graduate Paper was awarded to Lesley R Turnbull (Cornell U) for her essay entitled “In Pursuit of Islamic ‘Authenticity’: Localizing Muslim Identity on China’s Peripheries.” In this essay, Turnbull examines the self-production of Hui-Muslim identities in Kunming and delineates the complex reality of identity politics in China.

2013 David Plath Media Award – Peasant Family Happiness

Jenny Chio (Emory U) received the 2013 David Plath Media Award for her documentary Peasant Family Happiness. Chio’s film documents ethnic tourism in China and observes the negotiation between the local minorities and visiting Han tourists (see film trailer at


2012 Prize Recipients

2012 Francis L. Hsu Book Prize finalist

Andrew Kipnis (Australian National University), Governing Educational Desire: Culture, Politics, and Schooling in China. Chicago: University of Chicago Press (2011)

Governing Educational Desire is a book with a courageous agenda. Andrew Kipnis draws on many years of detailed ethnographic research on education in China to engage his readers in a complex discussion of how to understand the persistent and overwhelming social drive for educational achievement in China today. This is a far-reaching topic. Educational desire pervades our understanding of Chinese culture and social life as well as in East Asia at large and the diaspora, including, for example, the model minority discourse in US. It is with this apparently East Asian inescapable attachment to educational desire that Kipnis examines one of the most fundamental constructs of our discipline, “culture.” Thus, Governing Educational Desire goes well beyond an explanation of why educational desire is so all-encompassing in Zouping, China. By placing his in-depth analysis of the local and national social, political, and historical processes that fuel this desire in Zouping within the context of similar processes both regionally in East Asia and also globally, he succeeds in interrogating the cultural underpinnings of educational desire and detailing the complex ways in which this desire both shapes and is shaped by processes of governing, or what Kipnis calls “conducting conduct.” Through this rich discussion, Kipnis not only allows us a fascinating glimpse of the daily regimen of learning that takes place in one Chinese locality, but he also traces the effects of literary masculinity and the Confucian examination system throughout the East Asian region, muses with delicacy on the complex effects of universal social phenomena in particular local contexts, and, finally, contributes to contemporary educational debates on the role of memorization and rote learning both within and beyond China. In naming Governing Educational Desire the recipient of the 2012 Francis. L. K. Hsu Book Prize, we applaud Kipnis’ bold approach to the understanding of educational desire in contemporary China, East Asia, and the world, and his ambitious and insightful ethnography.

Hsu Committee: Nicole Newendorp, Chair (Harvard); Nancy Abelmann (Illinois); Ian Condry (MIT)

2012 Theodore L. Bestor Graduate Student Paper Prize finalist

Chigusa Yamaura (Rutgers University), From War Orphans to Brides: Localizing Cross-Border Marriages between Japan and Northeast China

This ethnographic study of Japanese-Chinese cross-border marriages in a Northeast China town examines how local narratives of Japanese colonial history are mobilized to legitimize marriage migration. At the heart of Yamaura’s analysis is the way Chinese and Japanese informants construe the relationship between Japan and China based on their distinctive histories. Japanese involved with the transnational marriage stressed Chinese people’s “familiarity” (shinkin kan) or “friendliness” (yukōuteki) to Japan, based on how local Chinese incorporatedJapanese war orphans into their families following World War II. Chinese informants, however, stressed the “blood ties” (xueyuan guanxi) between Japan and China, based on the fact that many residents of the town were descendants of the Japanese and therefore had living relatives in Japan. These differentiated frameworks legitimate transnational marriage brokering, in which local Chinese women marry Japanese men, often migrating to Japan afterwards. By focusing on the differentiated frameworks for interpreting Chinese-Japanese marriages, the paper addresses long-standing problems in the discipline regarding cultural conceptualizations of kinship and kinship behavior, in this case assessing appropriate types of affinity. As Yamaura’s paper shows, neither the sheer facts of economic inequality between cross-border marriage partners, nor the official histories of their respective nation-states, are adequate to understand this practice. Yamaura’s close attention to context, sensitive use of the theoretical literature, and fine-grained ethnography epitomize the goals of the Bestor prize and the fine work emerging in East Asian anthropology today.

Bestor Committee: Maris Gillette, Chair (Haverford); Nicholas Harkness (Harvard)

2011 Prize Recipients

The 2011 SEAA Hsu, Plath and Bestor Prize finalists were presented with their awards (an SEAA certificate of achievement and an SEAA mug) at the SEAA Business Meeting/Cash Bar (7:30-9:30, 18 November).

2011 Francis L. Hsu Book Prize finalist:

Li Zhang (UC Davis), In Search of Paradise: Middle-Class Living in a Chinese Metropolis, Ithaca: Cornell University Press (2010)

Hsu Committee:  Joshua Roth, Chair (Mt. Holyoke), Cathryn Clayton (2010 Hsu finalist, U Hawaii-Manoa) and Nancy Abelmann (UI Champagne-Urbana)
Committee’s statement:
Little more than twenty years ago, the vast majority of urban Chinese lived in state-owned housing organized around work units. Today, China boasts a rate of private homeownership comparable to that of many industrialized countries. Li Zhang’s exemplary study explores this remarkable transformation from the ground up in all its contradictions, including the destruction of entire neighborhoods and dispossession of lower-income inner city residents behind the curtain of “harmonious socialist society.”  Rich in ethnographic detail, In Search of Paradise introduces us to the dilemmas facing residents of upscale gated communities in Kunming as they find that their inward-focused, middle-class aspirations for a “private paradise” require them to engage in outward-focused collective action to protect their newfound property rights from rapacious developers. Clearly written and theoretically sophisticated, it is a book that will appeal to all those with interests in cities, class, and rapid social transformation.

2011 David W. Plath Media Prize Co-finalists:

Karen Nakamura (Yale), “A Japanese Funeral”

Mark Patrick McGuire and Jean-Marc Abela (shugendō, “Shugendō Now”

Plath Committee: Jennifer Robertson, Chair (U Michigan), Zeynep Gursel (Society of Fellows, U Michigan and filmmaker), and Beth Notar (Trinity College)
Committee’s statement:
“A Japanese Funeral”:  This short documentary allows viewers to participate in a Japanese funeral following the unexpected death of a 39-year-old man in his sleep.  While the film shares no information about how the director came to have such open access to the event and family in question, it is an example of an aspect of ethnographic film often left undiscussed – a richness and intimacy that comes from sustained fieldwork preceding the shooting.  Not only is the anthropologist there and given access once the death occurs but there is a sense that she has ties to the community that extend far beyond  the three-day event the film documents.  In other words, the film allows one to see rather than to stare at a Japanese funeral.  The film should also be commended on its brevity because the disciplined editing contributes to the film being an experiential ethnography rather than an expository documentary.

“Shugendō Now”:
This documentary has much to commend it, particularly the beautiful cinematography and variety of characters who we meet. The visual juxtapositions between urban and rural settings are striking. While the stories of individual practitioners and their motivations behind turning to Shugendō are interesting particularly when rendered in their own words, the real strength of the film is what the viewer gleans about the religious leaders in the Kumano mountains. The directors’ long term relationship with Kosho results in our seeing multiple aspects of his life and his intermingling of sacred and profound rituals.

 2011 Theodore Bestor Graduate Student Paper Prize finalist:

Emily E. Wilcox (UC Berkeley), “Arts of Truth: The Epistemological Paradox of Chinese Dance”

Bestor Committee:  Sabine Frϋhstϋck, Chair (UC Santa Babara), Anru Lee (John Jay College, CUNY), C. Julia Huang (National Tsing Hua University,Taiwan), and Orna Naftali (The Hebrew University, Israel)
Committee’s statement:  This is an intriguing, well-written paper on a relatively underexplored topic. Wilcox suggests that despite acknowledged evidence of the historical disruption and contemporary multiplicity of Chinese cultural tradition, Chinese dance practitioners and dance scholars uphold the idea of cultural continuity as a central principle of their work. A threefold question guides her analysis: (a) According to what logic of representation and cultural authenticity do these dances satisfy a claim to being Chinese? (b) Why is such a claim so important in the context of Chinese dance-making in the socialist era? And (c) How have Chinese socialist conceptions of realistic representation and artistic merit impacted understandings and practices of Chineseness in Chinese dance.
These questions are convincingly pursued throughout the paper, in which Wilcox combines evidence from ethnographic data, a thoughtful analysis of textual and visual materials, and a sophisticated and engaging theoretical discussion. The paper is a fine study of the inextricable connection between socialist sensibilities and indigenous Chinese elements in the making of socialist Chinese culture.

2010 Prize Recipients

On behalf of the Selection Committee for the Theodore Bestor Prize for the Best Graduate Student Paper submitted to SEAA in 2010 I am pleased to announce the winner. The committee unanimously selected Chun-Yi Sum’s essay, “An Exercise for the People’s Republic: Order and Discipline in the Morning Ritual of a Chinese Primary School” for the prize. Congratulations!

Sum uses ethnographic data collected at a primary school in rural China in order to examine the exercise of state power (and failure thereof) through the institutionalized enforcement of radio gymnastics.  She illuminates the subjectivation mechanisms at work through the daily repetitions of bodily movements, the collective effervescence promoted in the exercise, the structure with which it frames the school schedule, and the context within which the exercise takes place. Acknowledging that subjectivation remains ambivalent and imperfect, she argues that, during the process of “becoming,” it is not beliefs and ideology, but bodily practices and ritual forms that constitute the most durable and efficient instrument to subject making.  Suggesting a shift in analytical emphasis from meanings to practices, the essay constitutes a fine contribution to the scholarly understanding of the politicization of the body and its relationship to state control in China.

Chun-Yi Sum has broad interests in China’s development of nationalism and civil society under the currents of globalization, modernity, and political changes and is researching how national identity if experienced among Chinese youth. She was born and raised in Hong Kong, a city, which prides itself on being an interactive platform for Chinese traditions and multiple global forces. She received her BA in sociology and anthropology at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, and is currently a graduate student at Boston University.


A link to Sum’s full-text paper can be found here:


The 2010 Hsu Prize was awarded to Cathryn Clayton for her book Sovereignty at the Edge: Macau and the Question of Chineseness (Harvard East Asian Monograph Series, Harvard University Press, 2009). Here is the committee’s commendation: “Rare is a book that combines beautiful, flowing prose and elegant argument as is the case with Clayton’s monograph. She chose a propitious time to explore the issues of sovereignty and the question of Chineseness: the year prior to the transfer of sovereignty from Portugal to the People’s Republic of China in 1999. Notwithstanding guarantees of continuity, it was an anxious time when Portuguese administrators worried that their legacy would soon be forgotten. Clayton writes with a keen eye for the ironies of the Portuguese dilemma—the desire to promote a favorable perspective of their own long presence in Macau through public relations efforts, educational initiatives, and museum projects without appearing to whitewash a history of colonialism. The Portuguese answered this dilemma with an emphasis on a loose style of rule, what Clayton dubs a ‘sort of sovereignty,’ one evident in a laissez-faire multiculturalism over four centuries that stood in stark contrast starkly with the more overt British style of imperial rule. Chinese residents of Macau, however, could only scoff at what they considered the ineptitude of Portuguese rule, as crime rates soared unchecked. The eve of the sovereignty transfer also was a time of anxiety for Macanese (locally-born residents of Portuguese ancestry), who reacted with a burst of existential angst over having to choose either Chinese or Portuguese citizenship. Clayton provides incisive readings of the popular press, museum displays, informally circulating historical pamphlets, street signs, song lyrics and theater productions, which, along with her extensive interviews in both Cantonese and Portuguese, makes for a rich portrait of a frenetic transition-era Macau, in which the sedimented legacies of a long colonial rule were unsettled by the prospect of an unambiguously Chinese future. In so doing, Clayton has contributed to the anthropological understanding of sovereignty. Sovereignty at the Edge will serve as a model of scholarship for years to come.” Clayton is Assistant Professor of Asian Studies at the University of Hawaii-Manoa.


An Honorable Mention was awarded to Jesook Song’s book South Koreans in the Debt Crisis: The Creation of a Neoliberal Welfare State (Duke University Press, 2009).  The committee offered this commendation: “Song provides a beautiful ethnography of the social and subject forms that emerged with the IMF crisis, arguing that neoliberal technologies and ideologies led to new distinctions between ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ needy, new definitions of productive and desirable labor, and heightened discourses of family values. The book brings together stories of people experiencing homelessness on the streets of Seoul, examples of how discourses of family values denied the presence of women ‘on the streets,’ and arguments about how youth were incited to engage in self-development and self-management.  Based on fieldwork in a group aiming to help people hit by the crisis,  Song carefully explains how a particular kind of state aid emerged with the IMF crisis, what she identifies as a ‘neoliberal welfare society’ that focused on rehabilitating people for productive capitalist work.  Particularly compelling is the way Song draws on both Marxist analyses and Foucauldian analytics to make sense of the production of these social forms. While offering a critique of how this welfare regime facilitates the production of workers for the capitalist system,  she also asserts that we must understand how individuals, civil society groups, and non-governmental actors are engaged in (neo)liberal forms of governing and self-making.  Moreover, Song turns these very ‘research’ questions back on the researcher, asking how committed student activists – such as herself – became complicit in the neoliberal regime.   The committee wishes to note this book’s important theoretical contribution to East Asian anthropology – a successful linking of Marxist and Foucauldian modes of analysis and forms political critique, which also turns this critique upon scholars themselves.” Song is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Toronto.



2009 Prize Recipients

The 2009 Francis L.K. Hsu Book Prize was awarded to Nicole Dejong Newendorp, Harvard University, forUneasy Reunions: Immigration, Citizenship, and Family Life in Post-1997 Hong Kong (Stanford U Press, 2008). Uneasy Reunions is an elegant ethnography of the 20- and 30-something Chinese mainland wives who join their Hong Kong husbands after typically 5-10 years of waiting to cross China’s internal border.  These women and their passage, shaped by their interactions with Hong Kong social workers at a social service center, offer a window on the making of political and cultural difference across this internal border, and on the politics of belonging in Hong Kong more generally.  Nicole DeJong Newendorp skillfully guides us through these women’s passage: from mainland villages, to their “ordinary lives of waiting” in  Guangdong Province where they begin their married lives away from their husbands, and to their often downward mobility in Hong Kong’s West Kowloon area. Uneasy Reunions Hong Kong is “nervous” and “orderly” — cultural regimes that elide these migrant wives, many of whom long for the less frenzied, less neoliberalized post-Socialist mainland. We meet  the government-funded social workers who  are charged with tutoring these women to become “Hong Kong people” against the insult of the myriad of negative images of mainland people; and we meet their in-law families which often barter in the same stereotypes. This study of political difference – divergent “privileges and goals for relating to state and society” – is provocative for thinking about political borders of all varieties and the myriad  lives that traverse them.

Uneasy Reunions achieves what all ethnography aspires to: rich and textured portraiture of a corner of the human experience that speaks to the largest issues and experiences of our times. Beautifully rendering the crowded apartments that these women settle into  in Hong Kong , for example, allows Newendorp to document how these material spaces thwart the women’s migration dreams.  A nuanced account of the social workers’ attempts to tutor the women about “healthy” and “harmonious” family life reveals the stereotypes and technologies of Hong Kong citizen-making. Uneasy Reunions strikes a perfect balance: careful ethnographic portraiture, well-chosen scaffolding of relevant area and theoretical  literature, and pitch-perfect reference to other global instances of migration across political difference.

We applaud Newendorp for this parsimonious, evocative, inspired, and analytically impeccable contribution to the ethnography of East Asia.


We are delighted to recognize C. Sarah Soh’s achievement in The Comfort Women: Sexual Violence and Postcolonial Memory in Korea and Japan (University of Chicago Press, 2008) with Honorable Mention in the 2009 Hsu Prize competition.  In this first book-length anthropological examination of Korean comfort women, Soh seeks to de-essentialize and historicize comfort women’s circumstances while at once providing readers with their personal narratives of lifelong suffering.  This research and these narratives reveal aspects of the comfort women’s realities and experiences not captured by what Soh calls the “paradigmatic story of sex slavery.”

Comfort Women is a courageous example of engaged anthropology on a sharply contested issue.  Drawing on historical documents and multi-sited ethnography, Soh demonstrates that Korean comfort women cannot be caricaturized as sex slaves of Japanese imperialism, but that rather they were actors and victims in a diversified economy of sexual services with a long history of institutionalization in various forms in both Japan and Korea.  With this analysis, Soh reframes the issue from a nationalist anti-colonial grievance to a broader critique of the institutionalized domination of women.

We thank C. Sarah Soh for this excellent example of how anthropological research can contribute to an intensely debated public issue. We commend her for her intellectual rigor and courage.


Junjie Chen, Department of Anthropology University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is the winner of the 2009 SEAA Theodore Bestor Best Graduate Student Paper Prize. The award committee found Junjie Chen’s paper on “Performing the Family Planning Project in Post-Socialist China: An Interpretive Approach to (Re)producing Class” a richly layered and well-crafted account of the front- and back-stage machinations of a family-planning event in a northeastern Chinese village. Chen skillfully weaves a nexus of intersecting motives and forces, including the one-child policy, exceptions to the policy, moral scandals, political-economic corruption, class disparities, local-national government tensions, and personality politics. The paper, based on dissertation fieldwork conducted several years ago, is a refreshingly unblinking account of the “showbiz” propensities of ostensibly “humane, reformist” projects originating in Beijing and implemented in disingenuous ways at the local level.



2008 Prize Recipients

David Palmer is the winner of the 2008 Hsu Book Prize for Qigong Fever: Body, Science and Utopia(Columbia University Press).


The 2008 Bestor Prize recipient is Kathryn Goldfarb, University of Chicago doctoral student for “Making the Oral Contraceptive ‘for Me’ in Japan: Signifying Subjects with Bodies“.



2007 Prize Recipients

The Society for East Asian Anthropology’s 2007 Francis L.K. Hsu Book Prize was awarded to Tamara Jackafor Rural Women in Urban China: Gender, Migration, and Social Change, M.E. Sharpe Press, 2005.


Jay Sohn is the winner of the 2007 David Plath Media Award for “Shocking Family”.


John Cho is the winner of the Theodore Bestor Outstanding Graduate Paper Award for “The Wedding Banquet Revisited: ’Contract Marriages’ Between Korean Gays and Lesbians”.


Matthew Erie has been awarded an honorable mention for the Bestor Award for “Property Law, Public Interest, and the New Media in China: The Hard Case of “The Toughest Nail House in History”.


2006 Prize Recipients

The Society for East Asian Anthropology’s 2006 Francis L.K. Hsu Book Prize was awarded to Susan Orpett Long for Final Days: Japanese Culture and Choice at the End of Life, University of Hawaii Press, 2005.


The Bestor Prize for the Outstanding Graduate Paper in East Asian Anthropology for 2006 was awarded toShannon May for her paper, “The Work of Development: National Agendas, Local Income and Knotted Knowledge in Huangbaiyu.”